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Honoring Our Ancestors Newsletter

May 15, 2008

By Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

Megan Smolenyak SmolenyakGreetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

Is it just me or is 2008 speeding by? Can't believe it's May already and am bracing myself for whatever the rest of the year might bring, but overall, these are good days for genealogists, so no complaints! This month, you'll find the usual hodge-podge of family history topics -- DNA, grants, videos, and all sorts of random stuff that catches my eye. I hope everyone reading this finds some little tidbit that helps them in their quest for roots!

Take care,


In this newsletter. . .

Good Mourning TV

Believe it or not. . . pay-per-view funerals over the Internet.

Live, on Good Mourning TV!

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Family Tree Magazine Must-Have Issue!

Click on the cover below to go to the original posting. And yeah, I'm the one who wrote "Can I Date My Second Cousin?" Also contributed to the cloning and Antarctic articles!

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Who's Fooling Who?

This was an April Fools joke (note the name of the journalist), but I have to say it really doesn't sound that far-fetched to me. A few years ago when I predicted that people would be entering the genealogical arena via the genetic gate, many thought that was ridiculous -- but that was before the Genographic Project and the launch of companies like 23andMe and deCODEme. So I have to wonder, how extreme is this when you ponder it a bit? Rather than dismiss it, I'm tempted to take a stab at guessing when various aspects of it might come to pass . . .

Rich Genes

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Reynolds Family Shocker

I mentioned the terrific cover the folks at Family Tree Magazine came up with for April Fools Day. It reminded me of something I put together for a family reunion some years ago, so I thought I'd share it here. I basically made it look and sound like a tabloid, but all the teasers are based on true family tales. I enjoyed it, but I confess that not everyone at the reunion appreciated my sense of humor!

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Famous Family Trees in Us Magazine

Well, this is a first for me -- being quoted in Us Magazine (April 14, 2008 issue). I was interviewed in my capacity as Chief Family Historian for Ancestry.com about all the recent famous-cousin revelations. As I explained, "If you go back far enough, we're all related to someone famous." Which is absolutely true. But it's still fun to see all of the connections -- one of which, the link between Britney Spears and John Edwards -- is new to most.

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Diane Haddad on NBC San Diego!

Check out our friend, Diane Haddad, on TV telling folks how to make genealogy fun for kids! You can read her blog posting about the experience here and watch the video here.

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ProGenealogists Announces the 50 Most Popular Genealogy Websites

This is a press release from my good friends at ProGenealogists.com in Salt Lake City, Utah. It's a handy list of many sites that I'm sure you'll be interested in. I look forward to when video-driven sites (which tend to measure their traffic in video views, rather than page views) can be factored in so RootsTelevision.com can join the list!

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -- 2 April 2008.
ProGenealogists, Inc. released today the results of a study that identifies, for the first time, the 50 most popular genealogy websites.

The popularity of genealogy on the Internet has long been established, but for the first time, it’s possible to say which of the thousands of genealogy sites are the most popular in this growing field. The list uses a "places rated" approach to average the website traffic rankings from four major web analytics companies.

The top two websites actually tied for first place and are well-known to web genealogists: Ancestry.com and its sister site, RootsWeb.com. Third place, however, is the somewhat lesser known MyHeritage.com whose popularity is attributed to its many users in Europe and Israel. Next is Genealogy.com, with FamilySearch.org, provided by the LDS Church, rounding out the top five.

"The importance of this list for genealogists cannot be underestimated," said Natalie Cottrill, ProGenealogists’s President and CEO. "If a site is popular, as measured by actual traffic, it must be providing useful information, and genealogists are always seeking more sites to help with their research. Everyone will find sites on this list they have never heard of, or visited. We are very pleased to make this information available for free to the entire genealogical community"

The rankings are the result of research conducted over the past three months by ProGenealogists’s Vice-President of Marketing, Kory L. Meyerink, who is also an adjunct professor of family history at Brigham Young University. "Only full-fledged genealogy websites could be considered for this ranking, due to the way the web analytics companies conduct their research," Meyerink commented. "Individual pages on a government website, cannot be ranked independent of that government site’s own traffic. The same is the case for genealogical pages that are part of a larger, non-genealogical website." Sites of only passing interest to genealogists, such as the meaning surnames or promoting coats-of-arms, were also excluded.

Bryce Barnett, Operations Manager for ProGenealogists, remarked, "The findings of this study are fascinating. Nine of the 50 sites are subscription sites, illustrating that genealogists understand the value of paying for information. Indeed, half of the sites are primarily data-oriented sites. Another quarter are sites that provide links to genealogical data."

ProGenealogists has posted the list at http://www.progenealogists.com/top50genealogy2008.htm, notified the 50 websites, and provided an award icon they can display on their website. A detailed article, exploring the methodology and numbers behind this ground-breaking study is planned for a pending issue of Digital Genealogist, the popular Internet magazine, .

ProGenealogists, a privately held Utah corporation, is one of the nation’s premier genealogical research firms, with offices in Salt Lake City, and Sandy, Utah. Founded in 1998, it brings together many of the nation’s best genealogists in an environment fostering high quality, scholarly genealogical research. ProGenealogists’s own website has been nationally recognized for the design, layout and quality of its content by USAToday, "Yahoo Internet Life" Magazine, Family Tree Magazine, and "The Internet Scout Report" sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

For more information regarding ProGenealogists, Inc., visit their website at www.progenealogists.com or call toll-free 800-596-3230.

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Flying Zacchinis on Down Under

Ready for another episode of Down Under, the RootsTelevision.com show about cemeteries and the stories the stones tell? Then check out the Flying Zacchinis (you remember -- from the circus, right?!). Just click on the image below to watch George Morgan and Drew Smith (the Genealogy Guys) do some sleuthing in Tampa and Sarasota, Florida.

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I come with forest mushrooms!

(click on the image to learn more)

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Honoring Our Ancestors Gets a New Look!

Thanks to the talent of my web wizard, Bev Miller, my personal website -- honoringourancestors.com -- has a whole new look! If you haven't visited for a while, please take a little time to poke around. There are tons of articles, grants (more than 100 now!), photo galleries, Megan TV, and submission forms for your orphan heirlooms and brick walls. Hope you like it!

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I'm a Euro-Mutt! (genetically speaking)

You know, a few folks have taken me to task for sharing my husband's DNA testing results in an online video and some postings, such as this comparison by Ann Turner. But in my perspective the genetic genie is out of the bottle (well, maybe not all the way out, but definitely in the process of uncorking itself), so I suspect the day will soon come that sharing my husband's results (and yes, for those who asked, I had his OK!) will be regarded as very ho-hum.

Why did I do it? Because testing is still quite expensive, but the more we all know about this, the more we'll all learn. So I share results because I have the luxury of doing so, and we all benefit from the minds of the brilliant few who actually trouble to do anything with all that data.

Even so, I guess turnabout is fair play. So now it's my turn to share some of my own results. Many are familiar with DNAPrint Genomics, a company that offers a test known by a variety of names -- BioGeographical, admixture, AncestrybyDNA, etc. If you test as at least 50% European, you can take a closer look at that European portion of your heritage. Such a test -- the 1.0 version -- has been available for several years. But the results of the 2.0 version just now became available (as in, a couple of hours ago), so here, without further ado, are mine:

My overall genetic heritage is estimated -- by the standard AncestrybyDNA test -- to be approximately 86% European. If you check out the bar chart, you'll see that this European portion of my ancestry is said to break down to roughly:

22.3% Southeastern European
13.9% Northeastern European
44.1% Continental European
13.0% Iberian
5.6% Basque

If you can squint enough to follow the color coding back to the map, you'll be able to see the geographic correspondence for each of these.

Does it ring true? I'm half-Irish and half-Carpatho-Rusyn (think Slavic), so yes, I expected to be something of a mutt. The most surprising aspect? The Iberian and Basque coming to almost 20%. I think if I try hard enough, I might be able to rationalize a jaunt to the region for some roots-tourism!

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What's the fascination with folks with the same name?

Not that I expect it to happen to me anytime soon, but I'm well aware as this interesting posting addresses (read all the comments, too) that we do tend to be fascinated with others who sport the same name:

The Aptronym and the Googlegängers

I once used this knowledge to help crack a case. I was trying to get the current contact info for a woman with a common name -- let's say Mary Murphy -- in a small town. Online directories showed two such women in the same town, but the contact info for the one I needed was out of date. So I deliberately called the wrong one and explained my reason for calling. She responded that she wasn't the person I wanted, but she knew of the other Mary Murphy because they both went to the same vet, both had chihuahuas, and their records were constantly getting mixed up. You can bet my next call was to the vet!

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Google Me World Premiere!

Boy, I wish I lived somewhere near Newport Beach, California! Then I could get the answer to this tantalizing question: What do a cop, a swinger, an Irish priest, an engineer, a father of eight, an Aussie and a gambler have in common?

Google Me, the film that will answer this, premiered on April 25th. It's all about Jim Killeen and his efforts to meet the other Jim Killeens he discovered when he googled his name. If you're interested, you can go to the film's website and order the DVD (click on the $20 bill that's hanging in the upper right) -- as I did!

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Roots Central: keep up on the latest!

If you haven't spotted Roots Central yet, you'll want to check it out for all the latest events, schedules and news in the genealogical world. Updated weekly, you can see which speakers are coming to your area, test your knowledge of roots trivia, learn about new books and so much more! Better yet, speakers, societies and others are invited to submit their own events, news and trivia. And best of all, you can have Roots Central on your own website, if you'd like. I just added it to my own site here. If you'd like to add this feature to your website, just email rootscentral@rootstelevision.com.

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Video: Genealogical Math

Check out this video called Human Family Reunion. It covers what I tend to refer to as genealogical math -- the fact that we have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, etc. . . . and how quickly that explodes to millions. Also explains that our ancestral past is more of a diamond shape than a pyramid as we tend to think. And of course, it addresses one of my favorite topics -- kissing cousins!

While there are no startling revelations for hard-core genies in this video, it's very well done, and I really enjoyed it. Does a nice job of summing up a lot of info in just a few minutes. All in all, definitely worth the investment of a few minutes to watch.

Just one little quibble -- he keeps saying "most common recent ancestor" (MCRA) instead of "most recent common ancestor" (MRCA). If you take a moment to ponder that, there's a world of difference!

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Coming Soon! Down Under Utah

If you're one of the many who loves Down Under Florida, RootsTelevision.com's latest series about -- you guessed it -- cemetery sleuthing, here's a little taste of the Utah version you'll be able to watch soon. If you're eagle-eyed, you'll spot ace detectives, Kory Meyerink and Nancy NeSmith. And I, for one, am beyond impressed with Nancy's pink!

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100th Honoring Our Ancestors Grant Awarded

Back when I first became a professional genealogist, I launched the Honoring Our Ancestors grants program. Each month, I review grant applications that have been submitted and select one. Genealogical societies and projects are notoriously underfunded, so this seemed a good way to give back to the family history community that's provided me so many opportunities.

And the process continues the same until today. Typically, I print out the most recent month's applications and add them to a folder with applications from the previous five months (they remain active for six months). My husband and I then take some time at a local coffee shop, go through the stack, and choose one for funding. Then I write a check. That's it -- still as straightforward as it was in the beginning.

As is often the case with me, I'm running a little behind, but February of this year was my 100th grant. Since this was a special anniversary of sorts, I reached out and asked folks to help spread the word (thanks, Juliana, Dick and Chris and others who helped!). I wanted February's grant to be special in some way, so I reasoned the more applications I received, the more likely that one would jump out.

Well, two jumped out, but not for reasons I had expected. Two happened to be from Hudson County, New Jersey and Northeastern Pennsylvania -- the areas from which my mother's and father's families hail. And given that this program is called Honoring Our Ancestors, I decided to do just that -- honor my most immediate ancestors by awarding grants to the freshly formed Hudson County Genealogical Society and the Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society.

In the case of Hudson County, it's always amazed me that Jersey City -- perhaps the second-most important immigrant city in the U.S. after New York City (it's not that immigrants arrived there, but many went immediately there upon arriving in NYC) -- didn't even have a county genealogical society until this year. And I'm delighted to say that the gung-ho society is already busily indexing local newspapers, a welcome initiative that will help thousands in their research.

As to Northeast Pennsylvania, this area is also somewhat neglected in a genealogical sense. The millions of Welsh, Irish and Slavs who toiled in the coal mines are often overlooked (except perhaps for an occasional mention of Hillary Clinton's Scranton roots).

So in honor of George Smolenyak and his Wilkes-Barre, PA roots and Seton Shields and her Jersey City, NJ roots, my 100th (shared) grant goes to the Hudson County Genealogical Society and the Northeastern Pennsylvania Genealogical Society.

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Magic at MAAAGC

It was my first time interviewing -- that is, being the one to ask the questions -- so please be gentle in your assessments, but if you have time, check out this handful of videos from last weekend's Mid-Atlantic African American Genealogy Conference. You'll find all the links to Dr. Rick Kittles, Reginald Washington and others in this posting from the Og Blog:

New Roots Tuesday, April 22

P.S. In case you're not aware, we post a fresh batch of videos on RootsTelevision.com each Tuesday. That's where the "New Roots Tuesday" phrase comes in.

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I've hit my terrible twos!

Thanks to my friends Joe Beine and Randy Seaver, I now realize that I recently hit my second anniversary of blogging. Joe, Randy and I all started sharing our random thoughts (well, mine are, anyway) in April 2006. So happy birthday to all of us! To learn more about Joe and Randy's blogs, check out these postings:

Happy Birthday, Genealogy Roots Blog!

Randy's Genea-Musings is Two Today!

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DNA Fund Launched

Now this is a smart idea . . .

SALIDA, CA -- The DNA Fund, (www.dnafund.org), a new non-profit organization has been established to fund DNA testing scholarships and grants for ancestral DNA studies. Currently in Phase 1 of the Fund’s launch, testing monies will be raised through fundraising affiliates. Scheduled for Phase 2, the Fund will accept donations and in Phase 3, coordinate grants for DNA projects and studies. "DNA testing is usually considered a luxury item, but the knowledge that it provides is invaluable. The goal of The DNA Fund is to test as many people as possible and share the information in the public domain through publications and databases." says DNA Fund President, Katherine Borges. "People can support The DNA Fund just by using our affiliates for their normal shopping habits. The affiliates give a percentage of the purchases back which can be channeled into DNA testing funds." The DNA Fund is the first entity of its kind to provide funding for public genetic genealogy projects and other ancestral DNA studies.

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Honoring Our Ancestors Grants

Congrats to our recent grant recipients! Don't forget that you can apply here.  

February 2008
See 100th Honoring Our Ancestors Grant Awarded story above.

April 2008
The Italian Genealogical Group in New York is an organization dedicated to furthering Italian family history and genealogy, but one which benefits just about anyone who’s ever had an ancestor reside in the metropolitan New York area.  To date, they have computerized over 12,000,000 vital and naturalization records as part of an ongoing project. They will use their grant award for postage, envelopes and ink to keep the project moving forward.

May 2008
The Northwest Indiana Genealogical Society is a very active society that has over 50 publications, has walked and read all cemeteries in both Lake and Porter County, and has added numerous indexes to their website to assist researchers. They have recently come into possession of books that document marriages performed by the Justices of the Peace in Crown Point, IN. Because of the delicate shape they are in , it would do damage to them to scan these records or even copy by hand. The grant award will fund the purchase of a digital camera that will be used to copy the records.

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Upcoming Events

If you plan to be near any of the events where I'll be speaking, I would love to meet you. It's always a kick for me when folks mention that they read this newsletter, my blog, Ancestry Daily News or whatever, so don't be shy about introducing yourself!

For more information on these events, please see my Events Calendar. And if you're interested in scheduling me, just click here.

  • June 21, 2008 - Mandeville, LA - St. Tammany Parish Genealogical Society and the National Knowles/Knoles/Noles Family Association - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Introduction to Ancestry.com," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • June 27-29, 2008 - Burbank, CA - Southern California Genealogical Society - "Right Annie, Wrong Annie," "Welcome to RootsTelevision!," "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options" and "Jump-Starting Your Eastern European Research"
  • August 15-16, 2008 - Indianapolis, IN - Indiana Historical Society Midwestern Roots Conference - Topics TBD
  • September 3-6, 2008 - Philadelphia, PA - Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference - "Trace Your Roots with DNA" and "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options"
  • September 20, 2008 - South Portland, ME - Maine Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • September 27, 2008 - Naperville, IL - Fox Valley Genealogy Society - "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research," "Trace Your Roots with DNA" and "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options"
  • October 18, 2008 - Huntsville, AL - Huntsville-Madison County Public Library - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Welcome to Roots Television!"
  • October 26-November 2, 2008 - 4th Annual Genealogy Conference and Cruise, hosted by Wholly Genes, Inc. - "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options" and "Right Annie, Wrong Annie"
  • January 16-20, 2009 - Auckland, New Zealand - Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations 12th Australasian Congress on Genealogy & Heraldry - Topics TBD
  • February 14, 2009 - Secaucus, NJ - Hudson County Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA"
  • April 18, 2009 - Anchorage, AK - Anchorage Genealogical Society - "Introduction to Ancestry.com," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Find that Obituary! Online Newspaper Research" and "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt"
  • April 22-26, 2009 - Manchester, NH - The New England Regional Genealogical Conference 2009 - Topics TBD
  • September 11-13, 2009 - Spokane, WA - Eastern Washington Genealogical Society - Topics TBD

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Please forward this newsletter to your family and friends who are interested in genealogy -- thank you!

Wishing you an abundance of genealogical serendipity!
Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak


Note: You are receiving this because you have demonstrated an interest (e.g., you have a story in one of my books, applied for a grant, attended previous events, etc.) or subscribed via my website, but please let me know if you do not want to receive any further emails, and I will promptly remove you from my list. And rest assured, this is my personal list and not shared with anyone else! Thanks, Megan

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